Tag Archives: uc riverside

How Captain America inspired new fuel efficient cars

Materials scientist Suveen Mathaudhu shows us how both our favorite superheroes and real-world scientists create materials to save the world every day.

Some of Mathaudhu’s own research at UC Riverside has been inspired by Captain America’s shield: is it possible to make a material that is both incredibly strong and super lightweight?

Advances in this area have already made a real impact, particularly in transportation. Lighter vehicles mean better fuel efficiency, making cars cheaper to run and better for the environment.

The Ford F-150, the top-selling pickup truck in the US, shifted from a steel frame to an aluminum frame, increasing the fuel economy of the vehicle by taking over seven hundred pounds out of the frame of the vehicle.

Making the frame weigh less is a big start, but there’s another less obvious source of weight: wiring. The average automobile has between 45 – 110 pounds (20 -50 kg) of electrical cabling.

“Most of it is thick copper cable, and copper cable is heavy – and now copper is very expensive,” said Mathaudhu. “If we could get a fraction of that conductivity in aluminum, it would not only be cheaper to implement, it would be lighter weight even though it will never have the conductivity that copper will inherently have.”

Mathaudhu’s research has shown how you can use nanostructured features in aluminum to maintain its conductivity, while simultaneously boosting the strength of the aluminum. Aluminum is both cheaper and lighter, so by moving toward aluminum cabling, car manufacturers can solve two problems at once.

Chemists fabricate novel rewritable paper

According to some surveys, 90 percent of all information in businesses today is retained on paper, even though the bulk of this printed paper is discarded after just one use.

First developed in China in about the year A.D. 150, paper has many uses, the most common being for writing and printing upon. Indeed, the development and spread of civilization owe much to paper’s use as writing material.

Such waste of paper (and ink cartridges) — not to mention the accompanying environmental problems such as deforestation and chemical pollution to air, water and land — could be curtailed if the paper were “rewritable,” that is, capable of being written on and erased multiple times.

Chemists at the University of California, Riverside have now fabricated in the lab just such a rewritable paper, one that is based on the color switching property of commercial chemicals called redox dyes. The dye forms the imaging layer of the paper.  Printing is achieved by using ultraviolet light to photobleach the dye, except the portions that constitute the text on the paper.  The new rewritable paper can be erased and written on more than 20 times with no significant loss in contrast or resolution.

Read more about it here →

What engineers can learn from animals

The mantis shrimp

Genghis Khan bathed in sherbet ice cream.

This is how The Oatmeal described the violent AND beautiful mantis shrimp in their comic: “Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal.

These little guys, along with 20 other animals, will serve as inspiration for a team of engineers and researchers –– led by UC Riverside’s David Kisailus.  Of particular interest is the mantis shrimp’s clubs (or “murder sticks” as they’re referred to in the comic), which it uses to kill prey and break apart oysters, crabs, and mollusks.

Working with biologists and chemists, these engineers will study their biological systems and cellular structures to see if they can use those insights to develop stronger, tougher materials. Natural structures like shells, beaks and antlers are particularly interesting because they are composed of relatively simple materials (aka not industrial strength), yet display incredible strength and mechanical performance.

This multidisciplinary research will highlight the value in biologically-inspired materials allowing the next generation of materials development to take advantage of what nature has known for millennia.

Trilobites can tell us how animals evolved

The trilobitewhich became extinct millions of years ago, is commonly known as one of the first complex forms of life on earth.  Their fossils can be found in many parts of the world and are often collected for their interesting shapes and varieties. (There’s even a vacuum cleaner designed after this creature…)

In fact there are actually 20,000 known varieties of this arthropod. They even ranged in sizes from ones that could fit inside your pocket to being as large as your sofa (!!!?!).

UC Riverside’s Dr. Nigel Hughes explains:

“They can have scoops or shovels, be fantastically spiny or beautifully streamlined and diverged to really explore their evolutionary space, but they still maintain that common body plan.”

Scientists study trilobite fossils to understand how today’s animals have evolved to the present.  This can be everything from how mating habits developed to how a species can protect itself from predators.

Dr. Hughes not only studies the trilobite, but even sings about them.

 

Experiments in Happiness

Being happy isn’t always easy.  Humans are complicated creatures and although our brains might be capable of performing wildly complex tasks, they can also sabotage our well-being.

“Not everyone is going to be naturally happy all the time,” Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests. As a professor of psychology at UC Riverside, she has devoted her career to the study of happiness: what is it, what it does, and why does it exist.

Her studies have investigated two components of happiness: cognitive (a sense of satisfaction with life) and emotional (the raw experience of joy). For many of us, experiencing these two components simultaneously is rare, but according to Lyubomirsky, “there are certain strategies we can all use to maximize our happiness.”

To uncover these strategies, Lyubomirsky and her team designed a series of experiments called “happiness interventions.”

In one of these studies, one set of volunteers was asked to keep a gratitude journal once a week, while another set was asked to do so three times a week. Those who counted their blessings once a week exhibited a marked increase in happiness – but those who did so three times a week displayed no such uptick. Lyubomirsky speculates that for the latter group, gratitude became a chore or, worse, they ran out of things to be grateful for. The initial burst of happiness was thus deflated by monotony and irritation.

In fact, much of Lyubomirsky’s work explodes common myths and misunderstandings about happiness.

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